Archive for May, 2010

Eurovision Post-Mortem

May 31st, 2010

This year’s UK Eurovision entry was so forgettable that I have — less than 48 hours later — entirely forgotten it. It was sung by someone called Josh — I remember that bit — but I couldn’t tell you what it was called, or anything at all about how it went.


May 27th, 2010

The Virtual Stoa, nine years old today.

Liberalism, Once Upon A Time

May 24th, 2010

The 1937 Buxton Liberal Party Assembly:

This Assembly of the Liberal Party, indignantly aware of the grossly unequal distribution of property in this country, believes that the greatest possible measure of personal ownership, with the independence and security it brings ought to be enjoyed by all. It also believes that the opportunities for a full life hitherto open only to the rich should be placed before all. It recognises these twin ends as the inspiration of its domestic policy and pledges its whole strength in urging them on the nation in far-reaching reforms to achieve them.

The 1959 Liberal Party Manifesto:

People Count . . . This traditionally private-enterprise country must pull together to bring about ownership for all.

Liberals want co-ownership and co-partnership schemes encouraged through tax-reliefs. They want special tax-free employee savings accounts schemes brought in. They want more people to be able to buy their own homes. Schedule A income tax and Stamp duty must be abolished. To encourage mobility of labour, Liberals want temporary unemployment allowances increased.

The February 1974 Liberal Party Manifesto:

To finance all these proposals, there must be a radical redistribution of income and inherited wealth, the credit income tax proposals being the principal instrument for the former, and the Liberal proposal for a Gifts and Inheritance Tax, to replace Estate Duty and related in its incidence and rate to the gift or legacy and the wealth of the recipient, for the latter.

Child Trust Fund, RIP

May 24th, 2010

Stuart White on the abolition of the CTF, over at Next Left: “a great liberal policy killed by the Liberal Democrats”.

Question about Andy Burnham

May 23rd, 2010

Is there anything interesting to say about Andy Burnham, or anything to report that reflects well on him? He’s one of those people who has largely flown under my radar. I remember seeing him on telly a few years ago, when he was reasonably new in some not insignificant job or other, and being underwhelmed, but since I don’t really get my political news from the TV, and I don’t follow the minutiae of Government policy, he’s basically passed me by this last parliamentary term or so. So: any Andy Burnham-related thoughts and observations would be more than more than welcome.

UPDATE [25.5.10]: Jamie K has more.

Question about Cupcakes

May 23rd, 2010

Is it my imagination, or are there a lot more cupcakes around than there used to be?

Spam Interlude Over?

May 23rd, 2010

Thanks to everyone who alerted me to a spam infestation at the Virtual Stoa, which was showing up in Google stuff — the search engine, its cache and in the Google Reader thingummy.

The exhortations to buy Vicodin and Cialis and the like were probably more stimulating than the actual content they replaced; nevertheless, in the interests of restoring the usual service, I’ve delved deep into the bowels of the WordPress installation, zapped a few lines of extremely dubious-looking code, killed a few files that popped up in the plug-ins folder that really oughtn’t to be there, wiped from the memory banks a couple of unauthorized users and, finally, changed the passwords. It was all quite a lot easier than I’d anticipated — I get a bit nervous in the face of MySQL databases. And so, with luck, that hack’s been dealt with.

But, just in case anything does recur, please could my vigilant readers report any further unusual sightings: I don’t use Google Reader (I’m a Bloglines man myself), so I don’t tend to notice it when my readers all drift off in search of new opportunities to purchase these valuable drugs.

Dead Socialist

May 21st, 2010

J. A. G. Griffith, author of The Politics of the Judiciary, born 14 October 1918, died 8 May 2010.

It’s Exam Season!

May 19th, 2010

If you were marking examination papers on nineteenth century British political history, what mark would you give someone who described the 1832 Reform Act in these terms?

[It was] landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests, who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

And what comment might you be tempted to write in the margin?

Blast from the Past

May 19th, 2010

It’s good to read in tehgraun that “some of Italy’s most senior police officers have been given jail sentences of up to five years for what the prosecution called a “terrible” attack on demonstrators at the 2001 G8 meeting in Genoa and an attempted cover-up”, though sad also to read that, as with so many criminal trials with political ramifications in Italy, statutes of limitations mean that jail sentences are unlikely to be served.

Someone who may very well be unhappy with these verdicts is Tony Blair. British readers may remember what his spokesman said at the time, when reports of police brutality were beginning to circulate: “The Italian police had a difficult job to do. The prime minister believes that they did that job.”

Over the fold is a bit of eye-witness testimony of the events in question, from my friend Uri Gordon, an Israeli anarchist and G8 protester, which I was privileged enough to be able to publish nine years ago in The Voice of the Turtle:


The Vacuous Society

May 18th, 2010

Pinched from Hopi Sen, who grabbed it from the Downing St website:

Punditry, Revisited

May 16th, 2010

Time to revisit some of the predictions I made before polling day, to see how they stack up in light of events…

Concerning the outcome, I wrote that “my hunch… is that the Tories are going to win fewer than 300 seats.” Well, they made it to over 300, though not by much, but what was really wrong with my guess at the Tory seat-count was that the assumptions I was working from proved to be quite wrong. I thought both that the Lib Dems would win all their seats, and make inroads into the Con-Lib marginals and that the Labour vote would be much less resilient in the Con-Lab marginals – and in the end things were the other way around: the Lib Dem “surge” failed to materialise, and in the end they lost ground to the Tories; while the Labour vote held up pretty well, and the party was able to hold on to 250+ of its seats.

Thinking about the prospect of a hung parliament, then, I said that I thought “a Tory minority government seems by far the most likely outcome”, and that a coalition government “seems implausible”. I gave three reasons: first, the parties hate one another; second, that the Lib Dems were an unbalanced formation, “with the activists to the left of the MPs, and the MPs to the left of the bulk of the Lib Dem voters”, and that this would work to paralyze the party in tricky political manoeuvrings; third, that the Lib Dems’ rules – the so-called “triple lock” – for ratifying a deal would mean that the other party leaders would be reluctant to try to deal with them.

Obviously, I was spectacularly wrong here, apparently on all three counts. First, there really doesn’t seem to be any significant animosity between the Tories and the Lib Dems, but rather the love-fest we’ve been witnessing over the last few days. Second, the initial analysis of data about how people voted seems to have more Lib Dem voters identifying with the centre-left rather than with points further right. (Though I still think that the votes the Lib Dems were chasing most energetically were right-of-centre votes in Lib-Con marginals.) And, third, as we saw today, the “triple lock” was terribly easy for the leadership to get through – I was following the #ldconf tweetfeed earlier today, and apart from one special conference delegate denouncing the coalition as an attack on the Welsh working class, there seemed to be general approval of the leadership’s behaviour, and achievements, over the last week-and-a-bit.

I think the clue to my general wrongness may come, though, in what I went on to get more or less right. I said that I thought that “if there’s a hung parliament, all the party bosses will be acting in a risk-averse kind of a way” as “they’ll all be nervous about a second general election”. But I was imagining that the Lib Dems would be gaining seats in the election, and that a Tory party that had failed to secure a majority would be unwilling to deal with a party that felt itself on an incoming tide. In fact, of course, the story of election night was Lib Dem failure, to the extent that the Lib Dems were sufficiently afraid of the prospect of that second general election that they were willing to countenance transforming themselves into, in effect, the left wing of the Conservative Party in order to avoid it. I thought that this kind of fear would get in the way of two parties making a deal; in fact (as Charles Kennedy confirmed in today’s Observer), it seems to be what made it possible.

Happily, my final paragraph of speculation proved to be spot on – “obviously it won’t turn out” as I forecast, I said, before going on to denounce three specific bits of punditry as fantasy politics: the prospect of a deal on PR, Clegg becoming Prime Minister, or the so-called “progressive alliance” beloved of the Toynbee tendency in the punditocracy. So, at least I got something right.